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WHO and UNICEF joint statement on Vitamin A and deworming

Dhaka, Monday 8 June 2009.  WHO and UNICEF offices in Bangladesh would like to reassure parents that Vitamin A supplementation and deworming tablets are safe and effective interventions that contribute to strengthen the health of young children.

These interventions are recommended by both organizations. Vitamin A should be given every four to six months to children aged 12 to 59 months while deworming tablets should be given every six months to children aged 24 to 59 months.

Both Vitamin A capsules and deworming tablets (albendazole) used during the recent Vitamin A campaign in Bangladesh were bought from approved pharmaceutical companies.

Between 2002 and 2008, Bangladesh has held 8 National Immunization Days (NIDs) and, since 2003, 6 Vitamin A Plus campaigns, during which millions of Bangladeshi children have received Vitamin A supplementation and deworming tablets in the form of albendazole. No harmful side effects of either Vitamin A or Albendazole have been reported after all these campaigns.

Millions of children in more than 40 countries are receiving at least one Vitamin A supplement yearly very successfully.

Vitamin A has no serious side effects and contributes to build the immune system, helping children to better cope with common diseases such as measles, diarrhea and respiratory infections. Studies show that, Vitamin A-supplementation also helps children to grow faster, to be less anaemic, and it reduces the mortality rate.  Globally Vitamin A deficiency annually claims the lives of almost 670,000 children under five.

It is estimated that Vitamin A capsules save the lives of over 30,000 children per year in Bangladesh and reduce illness amongst thousands of others.

Deworming contributes to improve the nutritional status of the child. Worm infestation causes weight loss, poor growth and anaemia, leading to poor educational achievement. WHO recommends to treat all children in countries such as Bangladesh where more than 20% of children have worm infestations. Treating children for worms is one of simplest and most cost-effective interventions for improving health of children.

In Bangladesh, large scale Vitamin A supplementation commenced in 1973, as a part of the Nutritional Blindness Prevention Programme. Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to integrate Vitamin A supplementation of children aged 12-59 months with the NIDs in 1995, and was also one of the first countries in the world to develop the new strategy – National Vitamin A Plus campaign – that is used to deliver multiple interventions to children.

Both agencies are fully confident about the actions taken by the Government to investigate the cases of children allegedly becoming sick after taking Vitamin A capsules and deworming tablets.
The Minister for Health and Family Welfare has already appeared before the media to explain the situation and detailed the Government’s response. A high-powered investigation team has already been commissioned under the DGHS to probe into the matter.



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